Spring is here.
The sun is out, birds are chirping, flowers are blooming – and so are my allergies.
As many as 50 million Americans suffer from allergies every year (3, 4). For those of you who are also part of this statistic, I’m sure you’re very familiar with the feelings of euphoria of bidding the freezing temperatures adieu but fearful of your body’s reaction to the sudden exposure to the plant semen (pollen) now twirling in the air.
As if the itchy eyes, runny nose, and fatigue associated with seasonal allergies wasn’t sufficient
– biology has a way to kick things up a notch.
A few weeks back, I recall sitting at my desk first thing in the morning and being overcome with incredible pressure pain behind my eyes. It kept persisting and the pressure made my head feel like an inflated balloon that had a bit too much helium pumped in it with nowhere to escape.
It felt like my head was going to explode into a million pieces.
I felt as though I was getting sick with a common cold until I realized the locality of the pain in my face and head indicated something else…
Only once before in my life did I experience this excruciating pain and it was during a sinus infection, otherwise known as Sinusitis.
For those of you lucky ones unfamiliar with this condition: Sinusitis, or Rhinosinusitis, is an infection of the sinuses.
Sinuses are air-filled chambers in the skull, located around the nose, lined with mucous membranes. Normally empty, most sinuses drain into the nose through a small channel pathway called the Middle Meatus (5).
When they become blocked or backed up they become inflamed. This inflammation of the mucous lining of the nasal passages and sinuses is what causes Sinusitis.
While the official purpose of the sinuses are unknown, scientists have theorized that they help humidify and filter the air we breath, enhance our voices, and provide a means to lighten the overall load of our skull (5).
We have four pairs of sinuses known as paranasal air sinuses, which connect to nasal passages (the two airways running through the nose) (1, 5):
Frontal Sinuses – located behind the forehead
Maxillary Sinuses – located behind the cheekbones (largest)
Ethmoid Sinuses – located behind the nose
Sphenoid Sinuses – located behind the eyes
Sinusitis can be acute (less than 4 weeks), subacute (4-12 weeks), chronic (12 weeks or longer), or recurrent (three or more episodes a year) (1). Acute sinusitis tends to be caused by viruses while serious sinusitis tends to be bacterial.
This inflammation can cause an increase internal pressure within the cheeks, eyes, nose, and temple areas which can result in a severe headache (these Sinus Headaches is what I was experiencing for two weeks.)
That deep, throbbing pain that gets worse if you bend down, if the weather is cold and/or damp and more potent in the mornings because mucus collects and drains through the night.
Treatment for Sinusitis ranges from saline nasal irrigation (like the Neti Pot), steam inhalation, staying hydrated, decongestants, and if it persists, antibiotics (1, 5).
While Sinusitis can be caused by asthma, immune system disorders, or structural abnormalities (deviated septum) – the primary cause are allergies.
We experience allergies as a result of our immune system responding to certain types of mold and pollen as though they are dangerous invaders in our body (3).
In turn, they then become dangerous to us.
Our body releases a flood of chemicals, including Histamine, to fight the invader. Aside from immune responses, Histamine is a chemical that causes inflammation and is involved in regulating physiological functions in the gut and acts as a neurotransmitter messenger that carries signals from one nerve to another.
Relief from allergies come in the form of medication, nasal sprays, avoiding the provoking allergen, and the use of a HEPA filter filtration system.
The filters help because moist air clears allergens from the atmosphere (4).
Very rarely a sinus infection can spread to the eyes and the brain. Complications around the eyes are more common causing redness, swelling around the eyes, reduced vision and in very severe cases blindness (5). These damages are permanent and can result from a severe form called Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis (blood clot within the cavernous sinus). Infections near the center of the head can sometimes spread in the brain leading to Meningitis or brain abscess.
Again, these are incredibly rare instances and a majority of the time Sinusitis goes away on its own. Antibiotics are prescribed primarily for the patient’s comfort however, they can help prevent the infection from spreading reducing the likelihood of the rare complications listed above.
Thankfully mine was just viral.. That was caused by untreated allergies.. Since apparently I was supposed to start my allergy medication one week before Spring officially started, or the last week of Winter, however you want to look at it.
Either way, I didn’t get that memo.
My sinus infection is gone but my allergies persist; and so I am forced to temporarily relinquish my concentration, limited supply of available energy, and proactivity.
It’s okay, life can remain on hold until these attributes can be restored.
At least the weather is delightful.
I’m happy to sacrifice these features in exchange for Spring’s longer days and warmer weather — it beats the alternative of Winter’s shorter days and freezing temps any day.